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I think about slamming the door to father’s library as I leave, but don’t because he wants to annoy me, and I’m not about to let him know he has succeeded. After two or three grandchildren he will probably get over me marrying a magic-user—no matter what we name him—but for now he’s still not happy about it.
Zar wants to trade secrets for freedom, and father says that since I brought him home, I should decide. Looks as if every stray in the city is my responsibility. My first stop is Alan’s workshop, mainly because I want to see Alan, not because I expect him to help. The guards are waiting outside, as usual, but when I enter the workroom, it is empty. I’m confused, with the guards outside, Alan should be here.
I almost gut Alan when he hugs me from behind. “What are you doing?” Luckily long experience with my guards makes my question come out a vicious whisper instead of a scream.
“You idiot, I could have hurt you.” I realize I still have my knife out and decide I probably should put it away. “How did you do that?” I hadn’t seen him until he touched me, hadn’t felt him. I should have.
“New spell. It distracts people. Doesn’t make me invisible, just not noticed.” He is way too proud of himself for someone who almost had a knife stuck in him.
I start to fuss at him, and then realize what he is saying. “And can you make me unnoticeable too?”
He just grins his answer, and I decide to forgive him, after I fuss at him some more, because this new spell does have possibilities. But I’m not even half-way through my explanation of how very stupid it is to try and ‘surprise’ someone who has studied with my training master when our guard/chaperone opens the door and comes in. So I switch in mid-sentence to a summary of the task father has set me. To my surprise, Alan decides to come along.
“We know Orsin had dealings with the swamp-wizard, maybe Zar knows something about his magic.”
Because my guards are still nervous about disgraced royal assassins they take a ridiculous amount of precautions. Zar doesn’t seem to mind. He keeps rubbing his arm, even though his skin is healed; it was never any worse than a medium-bad sunburn.
“Does it still hurt?” I suspect Alan’s concern is more about his spell not preforming properly than is it about Zar himself.
“No, Mage, I just can’t believe it is gone.” Zar is being polite, he even bowed to me before the guards chained him to a chair.
“What do you have to offer?” I’m not being polite, I’m too frustrated to be polite. We really can’t execute him because some other disgraced assassins tried to kill me and mine. Well, we could, but it would be wrong. On the other hand, I really don’t want to follow mother’s suggestion and send him to Halft. That is much too close.
“Anaslov is an Outlander spy.” Zar recognizes my lack of interest; we know that from the lights he kindled on the shore. “But he was also a spy for the power in the swamplands of Caeel. He had a tattoo that let him communicate with his true lord.”
“Anaslov was inspected for tattoos,” I tell him. And don’t waste breath calling him a liar.
“The tattoo was put on his shaved head, once his hair grew back, no one could see it. After he swore oath to the monster, he came to Lord Orsin to wait until his hair grew back. No one stays in the swamps longer than they have to. And he had to be careful, one or two of the Outlander Captains know about the tattoos.”
“Did you see the tattoo. Was there only one?”
“Yes, Lord Mage, only one, and I saw it. I was the one tasked to serve him while his hair regrew. Orsin believed all of the tales about us, including that we cannot be made to talk.”
Without Alan having to ask, I send a guard for writing supplies. Neither of us are surprised when the rune Zar draws is the one we know allows communication.
“Humm.” Alan says no more, but I think he has noticed something else, something he will not tell me in front of Zar.
Zar has a few more tidbits of information, more interesting than useful. At least I couldn’t see a use for knowing that a beloved general’s assassination was paid for by his wife, and the Collective let her get away with it because of what a trial would have made public about the private habits of the general. Still, I had a clerk record everything he told us, mother might find a use for it that I couldn’t see.
“What would you do if I freed you?” I had to ask this; I couldn’t just free him to go assassinate people.
“Without the tattoo, a mercenary band will hire me. Everyone always assumes a disgraced assassin has done something really bad; no one ever thinks that maybe he was disgraced because he refused to do something really bad.”
And I didn’t think that either. But then… All of the dirty secrets he had shared with us were from realms other than Verkal. He had told us nothing against Verkal, even though they exiled him. I thought about this for several minutes. My silence must have frightened him.
“I will go to Sombar, in Creel. I will swear holy oath to do so. They are always interested in hiring good swordsmen because of the Outlander attacks.”
That was true; Outlanders were always trying to bypass the stronghold to ravage the lands on each side of the great river that divided Caeel. And he couldn’t get any farther from Abalem without going to the Outlands itself.
“You would need to stay well away from the swamps of southern Caeel.”
“Damn right.” Now that response from him I believed.
“Some of your information is useful, and Caeel a good place for you to go.” He looks hopeful for the first time. “But you will remain locked up until I can arrange travel for you.” I have no intention of just giving him a horse and trusting he will leave Abalem. “And, you will be given a list of costal trading ships that are reliable about conveying messages. I want you to write me if you hear anything new about the swamp-wizard, the Wassak. You don’t need to go about spying, just listen to any gossip—without asking any questions that would get you noticed.”
“I am spy as well as assassin, I know how to gather information. No,” his eyes change, I’m not sure how, “I was spy and assassin, now I am swordsman.”
For the first time, I think he might not be lying.
“He did help with the murderer,” I’m talking to myself more than to the others. I’ve gathered Traver and Jes along with Alan to help me decide about Zar. For all that father has told me it’s my problem, I will still tell him what the plan is—once we form a plan. I’m silent for a moment as staff come into the wall chamber with food, drink, and wood for a small fire. Except at the height of summer, the rarely used wall chambers have a definite chill.
“One rune for communication. But multiple runes for other powers.” Alan is talking to himself, too. “And multiple languages. Do we know how many languages?”
“Yes, and where the runes were placed. Mynar has the drawings. Evert’s too. Sloan’s” I need to start remembering his real name. “Why?”
“Now that we know the ink he uses is hard-won, we also know he wouldn’t waste it. So all of the repetitions must be necessary.” I look at him, waiting for the conclusion. Alan just shrugs, “It is another piece of information.”
I sigh. He is so like Mynar. New information is exciting, even if it doesn’t produce any results. I like results.
“The tribes will follow him across Mysk, and make sure he enters Caeel,” Jes offers. “They will consider it worthwhile just for the chance he will discover information about the swamp-wizard. He is, after all, right on their borders.”
I just nod my acceptance, and let him think my smile is for the suggestion. Actually, I’m smiling because he said ‘their borders’ not ‘our borders’.
Taver goes to start the arrangements for escorting Zar to the border between Abalem and Mysk, and Jes goes to his rooms for more dream-talking, while I go to convince mother and lay our plans before father.
Everyone agrees. I’m going to record this in my journal. Even Sister Mays has no problem overseeing the oath; she allows it in front of their altar, surprising me since I would have expected her to refuse his admittance.
“It is possible to reform,” she assures me, while revising the wording of the oath I was going to ask of him, to a more general ‘do no harm to Abalem’. “Too specific oaths always have unexpected consequences.” I don’t argue with her.
Zar swears the oath at sunrise, since Sister Mays says that is an auspicious time for new beginnings, and is out the main city gate with a group of Taver’s soldiers dressed as hunters well before full light. Zar is surprised when I give him a horse and supplies, and repeat my warnings that the swamp-wizard might be even more dire than he thinks.
Best to speed him on his way, he might find out something about the Wassak, and he might send that information on, and it might get to us. Vanishing small chance, but the darkness of Celeste’s visions is intense, so I will do anything that could help, for all that I still believe the danger is the harmless looking Murr.
I watch as Zar rides out, and then I go to find Alan. We are going to practice using his ‘don’t notice me’ spell.